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Big spotlight on Biden’s little Delaware


When New York City hip-hop artist Matthew “Boy” Pierce released a whimsical song in September 2019 about his home state of Delaware, chronicling his upbringing in Wilmington, it fell on deaf ears in the Big Apple.

“No one in New York had a clue what I was talking about,” Pierce said. “I’m the only person from Delaware most of my friends here have ever met, and they know absolutely nothing about the state.”

But a few days later, “Park Tour Delaware,” which references local institutions such as Grotto Pizza and Charcoal Pit, had made front-page news down south.

The Wilmington News Journal paid tribute with a two-page feature, inducing pride from residents.

“I never thought I would see the day,” a YouTube commenter beamed with emojis before playfully adding: “I wonder how many people who hear this song has [sic] any idea what he’s even talking about.”

So, imagine how Delawareans are feeling now that President-elect Joe Biden — who frequents some of the establishments mentioned in Pierce’s song — has turned the eyes of the world to the First State.

“It’s the dream of all dreams,” said Sarah Willoughby, executive director of the Greater Wilmington Convention & Visitors Bureau. “We’re always overshadowed by Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York and DC, so it’ll be great for people to learn more about what we have to offer visitors.”

From Harriet Tubman to Bob Marley, from progressive beach towns to a revived urban waterfront, the state is full of surprising secrets.

And for those beginning with a blank slate, a tour of Biden’s Delaware is the perfect place to start.

Getting to know Wilmington through Biden

Joe Biden moved to Claymont, Delaware, when he was 10 and attended high school (Archmere Academy) and college (University of Delaware) in the state. He served as a US senator from Delaware for 36 years before becoming vice president, often commuting to DC via Wilmington’s Amtrak station.

Because of the coronavirus, the majority of Biden’s election campaign operated out of downtown Wilmington, most notably with events at The Queen theater, which is a historic local music venue, and the five-star Hotel Du Pont.

The latter is where Biden celebrated his first senate victory in 1972, and where, believe it or not, reggae superstar Bob Marley once worked as a janitor.

Delawareans view Biden as a simple man — “it’s just Joe,” as some people put it — and his most-frequented restaurants and menu choices back up that claim.

He is well-known for repeatedly ordering the chicken parm at Café Verdi, and a simple plate of hand-made capellini al pomodoro at Piccolina Toscana. At Capriotti’s, it’s the Bobbie sub, aka “Thanksgiving on a roll.”

His picture is on the wall of The Charcoal Pit in suburban Wilmington, a burger joint and ice cream parlor where each specialty shake is named after a local high school.

But because his alma mater, Archmere, is missing from the sundae menu, he typically orders a black-and-white milkshake, thick and lumpy. (In that case, Mr. Biden, may this author humbly suggest you give his alma mater, the Salesianum, a try?)

Biden doesn’t drink, but that didn’t stop Wilmington Brew Works from creating a beer for him in November. It’s a Double IPA called “Rail Car One: Wilmington to Washington” that clocks in at 8% ABV.

A ‘place for all’ in Biden’s Rehoboth Beach

In 2017, the Bidens purchased a vacation home in Rehoboth Beach, a small town on Delaware’s southeast coast with an interesting history of inclusivity.

As explained at the Rehoboth Beach Historical Society and Museum, the name “Rehoboth” itself oozes acceptance. In Genesis 26:22, Isaac digs a well in a place he names “Rehoboth,” declaring, “The Lord has made room for us.”

The founders of Rehoboth — who were Methodist — adopted this name with the intention that it would be a place with “room for all.”

It hasn’t always been smooth sailing, but overall, it’s one of the most progressive and LGBTQ-friendly beach towns in the region.

“Everybody loves that concept, that there’s room for all in Rehoboth,” said David Mariner, executive director of CAMP Rehoboth (Creating A More Positive Rehoboth), a nonprofit community center on Baltimore Avenue that seeks to promote cooperation and understanding among all people.

“And that’s our mission everyday — to create a place where everyone feels welcome and supported, particularly folks of different sexual orientations and gender identity expressions.”

Events are hosted year-round by CAMP Rehoboth, including Sundance, a weekend-long dance party with side celebrations such as dress-in-drag beach volleyball, and Women’s Fest, a gathering of lesbian, bisexual and trans women (before the pandemic, the Indigo Girls were set to perform at this year’s event).

The Biden track in Rehoboth includes stops at Browseabout Books, Lori’s Café and Double Dippers ice cream shop, as well as the trails of Cape Henlopen State Park (home to the Biden Environmental Training Center, a retreat and conference center).

At Herring Point, a bench on a bluff, dedicated to his late son, Beau, provides sweeping, contemplative views of the ocean.

Consider taking home some Henlopen Sea Salt, or slurping down local oysters, extracted right from these waters.

Later, help settle a local debate by comparing a slice from Delaware’s iconic pizzeria, Grotto Pizza, and Rehoboth’s very own Nicola Pizza, famous for its “Nic-o-boli” calzone.

Thus far, Biden has not weighed in — politics can be tricky, you know.

Going beyond Biden in Wilmington

Back in Wilmington, 90 miles north, the downtown train station is quiet on a rainy afternoon. But, post-pandemic, things could be bound for change.

For decades, Delaware’s regional claim to fame has been its tax-free shopping, with residents of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland taking advantage of Wilmington’s big-box retailers (Total Wine run, anyone?).

Visitors today will find things to be a lot more interesting.

Arrive by train to Wilmington’s Amtrak station, frequented by a commuting Biden for decades, and you’re just steps away from the 1.3-mile waterfront path in the revived Riverfront district, a mix of boardwalk and brick with public art, green space, historical points and waterfront restaurants along the Christina River.

From Tubman-Garrett Riverfront Park, you can see the Market Street Bridge, which played a role in the Underground Railroad. Delaware had 15 Underground Railroad “stations” in total, with Harriet Tubman serving as a key conductor in Wilmington (learn more at the nearby Delaware History Museum).

At Dravo Plaza, you’re greeted by large cranes and signage that speaks to Wilmington’s ship-building history, including the Landing Ship Tank (LST) model that gained fame during the invasions of Normandy and Iwo Jima.

Walk farther south to discover an often-overlooked natural area. The DuPont Environmental Education Center rises above more than 200 acres of marshland with elevated viewing platforms, bike rentals and boardwalk trails along the river.

Mixed in between are apartment buildings, public boat docks and three hotels with water views — the Westin Wilmington, Homewood Suites by Hilton and Hyatt Place Wilmington.

The river taxi is a great way to get around, with six docks along the Riverfront to hop on and off between watering holes. Grab a beer at Iron Hill Brewery, founded in 1996 in Newark, or Constitution Yards, a summer-only waterfront beer garden.

Then, pop into the Riverfront Market to pick up fresh produce, or settle in at the raw bar at Bank’s Seafood Kitchen. Big Fish Grill has won awards for its casual seafood, and Docklands is a good bet for live music. The Drop Squad Kitchen, a “vegan, soulful, and ancestral” counter-café, serves multicultural, plant-based recipes.

Keeping the pandemic in mind, the state launched a nine-stop street-art trail in September between Biden’s two hubs, Wilmington and Rehoboth — a timely chance to discover underappreciated places along the way, such as the Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge and the Big Chill Beach Club.

Then again, pretty much everything in Delaware is underappreciated at the moment. But with the state’s most famous resident soon to be at the helm of the country, the question is how long will it stay that way.

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